Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Seductiveness of Numeric Success

So, how many people has your church baptized this year? How many decisions were made at your camp last summer? How many people came forward when you preached?

These past couple days I've been reminded of all those questions and the natural impulses behind them. Those of you who blog (unless you're made of finer clay than I) know what it is like to write something and hope that someone reads it. I post a few semi-random thoughts. I give a little thought to what features I can add to the site that might be helpful. Then it hits me--I absolutely must, MUST know how many people are skidding by my little plot of cyberspace. So I go find some html code for a counter feature and sign up with some faceless entity that will no doubt spam me mercilessly despite my rejection of all "special offer" requests.

All that simply to ponder how seductive is the affirmation that people just might care enough to read what I have to say. How easily that motivation can creep so subtly into our ministries.
What will people think of me if I share a testimony Sunday night? What if I admit to all my spiritual infirmity in some area? Will this sermon illustration make people think I'm funny (no matter if it makes the point of the text)? Will it make them walk the aisle? How will this decision about how we do church affect our attendance?

How long could we go on?

Now, it would be easy to make a blanket condemnation of nose-counting, but somebody was running the abacus in Acts 2:41.

Here's where I see the distinction: motivation. Perhaps that is obvious, but the balancing act is Ringlingian. Are we making ourselves big or our God big? Notice the passive voice verb in Acts 2:41 translated "there were added." My immediate suspicion that this is an arrow pointing to divine power is confirmed in the text a few verses later following a narrative of the growth of the Jerusalem church. Verse 47 concludes, "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV, emphasis mine).

For now, I'll have to fight my thirst for acclaim. I seek God's grace to instill in me a growing desire for that day when my awe for Him will be complete and I will see what John saw in Revelation 7:9-10--a great multitude of worshipers from all the peoples of the earth, and no man will be able to count them all.

And no one will try.


joy said...

speaking of obsessions with numbers...
are you trying to set some kind of record with how many entries you're posting up here per week? i'm NEVER going to catch up. never.

Bob Bixby said...

I read your blog. Count me as 1.